When Life Gives You Lemons: Shaking Up and Sweetening Sour Situations
Picture this –
you’ve lined up all the necessary elements of a project, and all you need is for someone else to carry it over the finish line. You’ve completed your part and think it’s a done deal. So, what happens when you think you have it all set up, you reach out for a handshake, and instead, life hands you a lemon? You make lemonade, that’s what!
Once Upon A Time:
Lara Smith, Senior Director of Brand and Communications at Somatus, shared a story that made us laugh, (nearly) cry, and yell, “They did WHAT?” along with her. We felt her story was one worth sharing as a reminder of how a little creativity goes a long way.
Earlier this year, to commemorate National Employee Appreciation Day, Lara and her team orchestrated a campaign to help teammates feel “Somatus Strong.” The organization planned to thank its teammates for their contributions in various ways, including providing them with a t-shirt that would be sent to their homes ahead of the special day. This way, teammates could wear the shirt as part of the celebration, snap a photo, and submit it to share in the company’s newsletter and social media accounts.
There was a great deal of buzz around the activation. The team had sourced great shirts with a trusted vendor, implemented a multi-channel communication plan to promote the occasion, and worked with the vendor to host an online ordering process. Everything seemed to be all set. Lara smiled and thought, “Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy!”
A week before National Employee Appreciation Day, Lara and her Comms team received an email.
“Hey Team, I just got my shirt! It’s so cool, but I ordered an XS and got a 2XL.”
Before they could even respond…
Another email popped up in their Internal Communications inbox.
Ding! Ding! Ding!
Yet another alert. Followed by another. And then another.
That’s when Lara had a sinking feeling that something had gone awry. She responded quickly and reached out to the vendor, starting with five simple words…
“Houston, we’ve got a problem.”
Imagine her surprise when she realized that the t-shirt vendor (we still love you, t-shirt vendor) had incorrectly sorted on the final order spreadsheet (admit it, we’ve all been there) and sent incorrect sizes to a significant number of Somatus teammates.
Instead of sulking (okay, probably after a little sulking – she’s human, after all), Lara discussed the misfortune with a colleague who responded with a fantastic idea.
“Why don’t we have some fun with this? Why don’t we have a contest that sees who can do something with their wrong-sized shirt in a fun and creative way?”
So, a new plan was hatched: Somatus teammates were told that they would indeed receive a new, correct-sized shirt in time for Employee Appreciation Day; however, instead of discarding the shirt that they had just received, they were encouraged to take photos showing off fun and unique ways of using the ill-fitting shirt. Whoever came up with the best submissions would win a prize.
The teammates had a BLAST with it. They put the shirt on other family members, pets, and stuffed animals. One teammate put her young child in the shirt, added her badge, and wrote:
“My kiddo is ready to go to work when the time comes!”
Over one hundred photos were submitted, and fifteen of those were nominated by the Comms team for use in the contest. The entire organization voted on five winners. Lara’s favorite of the winners of “Who Wore It Best” was Miss Betty. Why?
“Because Miss Betty represented how our Comms team felt throughout this process.”
So, The Moral Of The Story Is:
When Lara was prompted to provide three keywords that captured her initial feelings upon realizing the debacle, she listed:
“Overwhelmed, Disappointed, and Determined.”
When asked to share her feelings looking back on the event, Lara exhaled and stated:
“Elation. Relief. Gratitude.”
Lara explained that she felt appreciation for a few different reasons. First, the vendor understood the severity of the issue and wanted to correct it immediately. (P.S. They still work with the vendor since it took accountability and immediately acted to fix the problem!) Next, she was grateful for Somatus leadership’s understanding and flexibility. Then, thankful that the Somatus teammates had an open-minded reaction to the pivot to their original plan. Finally, Lara raved about her team:
“This is why I love Comms and am thankful for the great, creative people our industry attracts. As Communicators, we have an opportunity to be an example and set the tone for others.”
Lara identified a few key takeaways from this experience:
- Hey… “Shirt” happens. (FYI – this pun was almost literally put in the official communication plan, but the team felt it might come off as flippant, so they removed it. Fortunately, we can still repurpose it here!) Honestly, that’s a perfect way to put it. Don’t dwell on the past, and give yourself and others grace. Understand that we are all humans who make mistakes.
- If something goes wrong (see above: “we are all human”), figure out how you can spin the situation into a positive and memorable experience for those involved. It is easy to get upset and may seem desirable to move on from the project; however, know that people will remember how you made them feel or the effort you put in to try and correct the mistake. Challenge the people on your team and in your organization to get creative. Everything is “figure-out-able.” It may not be what you originally dreamed up, but you will figure it out.
- Grow through what you go through. Identify lessons that you could use for next time. For example, from this instance, Lara learned (or at least was reminded) that any time you have a chance to double-check something, do it. Just because it worked before doesn’t mean it will automatically work again. Lara’s team grew wiser from this mishap.
Looking back now with perspective, Lara reflected:
“This was a great example of something that [after the initial mix-up] we thought would leave a sour taste in people’s mouths yet ended up being a LOT of fun.”
Some may say this sweet, sweet success tasted like… lemonade.